MYRTLE BEACH — Former Horry County Council chairman Tom Rice ran with a motto of “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
It’s an idea that’s still very much at the forefront of the five Republican candidates looking to fill his seat – Al Allen, Liz Gilland, Debbie Harwell, Mark Lazarus and Fonzie Lewis.
The victor of Tuesday’s special primary election will oversee a County Council that plans to take a harder look at the funding given to the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. to help bring companies into the area. The primary winner will almost certainly be the next chairman, as no Democrats have entered the race.
But candidates have more on their minds than just economic incentives and their effectiveness. Inadequate roads and a lack of focus on existing businesses are other hindrances the hopefuls listed as obstacles to growing the Grand Strand’s economy.
Allen, who currently sits on County Council, said the EDC has taken a giant step forward in the last two years and it has good, solid, professional leadership.
“It’s like with anything,” Allen said, “you will have growing pains and it will be tweaked.” He said that Horry County’s future is bright because of the EDC’s work.
How do we count to 500?
One tweak that could be coming soon is how the EDC counts new jobs that are going toward the goal set for EDC head Brad Lofton.
The goal is 500 new jobs, and EDC officials and at least some council members count them differently.
Councilman Carl Schwartzkopf, for one, has said he doesn’t count a job until a worker’s issued a W-2. By his count, the EDC has brought in 233. EDC officials count jobs that companies have committed to create in Horry County. By their count, they’ve created 458 jobs.
Some of the candidates weighed in on the issue at a Wednesday debate in Myrtle Beach.
Former County Council member Lazarus said he believes in giving businesses a timeframe, upon completion of an agreement, to come into Horry County and turn promised jobs into paid employees. If the company doesn’t meet that timeframe, he said, the county should revoke any incentives.
Local businesswoman Harwell said she believes the EDC should only get credit for job creation after a company commits to locating in Horry County and starts construction on its facility.
Joseph Von Nessen, research economist at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, said when it comes to announcements versus boots on the ground, what one needs to look at are the jobs actually created.
“Job announcements are obviously a precursor to that,” Nessen said.
Nessen said it’s also important to consider the multiplier effect. The ripple comes after companies locate in an area and hire employees. Those workers then reinvest their paychecks in the local economy.
But just what that effect is varies.
“That depends on the type of industry that you’re talking about. Retail versus tourism versus manufacturing all have a different multiplier effect,” Nessen said.
The county has a five-year agreement with the EDC to give the group $1.8 million a year to lure companies to Horry County. That money is dependent upon the organization meeting the county’s job goals. The issue is expected to come up at the council’s budget retreat in April, though the new chairman will not yet be seated, as the general election will not take place until April 30.
Since late 2011, Frontier Communications, Canfor Southern Pine, AvCraft, BauschLinnemann North America and Native Sons all relocated or expanded their businesses. This week, Metglas in Conway announced it added a 21,000 square foot addition to its plant and brought in three new jobs.
The EDC didn’t assist with the Metglas expansion, but was involved in the others.
Charity begins at home
Some candidates would rather the focus be on the county’s own businesses.
“The greatest growth in new jobs, no matter where you are, comes from existing businesses expanding,” said former council Chairwoman Gilland.
Allen said his personal opinion is that charity begins at home, and he wants to help existing businesses through the thick and thin. Part of how that can be accomplished is less restrictive activities as far as code enforcement is concerned.
He stresses code enforcement is still needed, because there needs to be standards.
Harwell never wants to give up on attracting new businesses, but said she also wants to help those already existing in Horry County.
Lazarus said he hopes to see officials work closer with Coastal Carolina University to promote its marine wetland science department, a tactic that he thinks could help lure in businesses to use the facility as a research model, part of a push to expand local industry beyond tourism.
Von Nessen agreed the focus should be on more than hospitality businesses. Tourism jobs are seasonal, he pointed out, and the broader the economic base is, the healthier it’s going to be.
Call center hopes
Gilland thinks there should still be a focus on luring a call center to Horry County, because she said the consensus is that the area is suited for one.
In December, the EDC discontinued trying to lure Covation, a company that would have brought a call center and 1,020 jobs to Horry County. Concerns about the company’s record and delays in securing contracts sidelined the project.
Candidate Fonzie Lewis took a jab at the failed Covation deal at Wednesday’s debate when he said, “Everything that shines, not gold, let me tell you.”
Allen stood by the work of the EDC and County Council to lure Covation, making the comparison that a fisherman might not catch anything one day, but that doesn’t mean you don’t go back and try again.
More pavement, more jobs?
For his part, Lewis said the solution to getting more jobs is roads, most notably Interstate 73.
It’s a position he stuck with during his run for the House District 58 race in 2012.
Lewis has questioned throughout the campaign why I-73 isn’t here, even after 30 years of trying.
“The good old boys is blocking it,” he said recently.
Supporters of I-73 say it will bring over 20,000 jobs and give Horry County an economic advantage, as major businesses would be willing to move to an area near a major interstate.
Von Nessen didn’t want to weigh in on the I-73 debate, but he did say that in the Upstate, the Interstate 85 corridor has been important to manufacturing.
But though the area may lack an interstate, we do always have the allure of the Atlantic.
“You have the beach. That is a competitive advantage,” Von Nessen said.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.